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Welcome to a most ambitious educational endeavor - a four-year course covering the Book of Concord. We are offering this course in two venues. You may meet with others in our Sunday morning gatherings, which will be held for the most part on the first Sunday of each month at 8 a.m. at Thanksgiving. Or you may follow the course here, on our website.

You will have two voices in this course: Mine, as pastor at Thanksgiving Lutheran Church, and Sandy Koppen, a devoted member of TLC and a beloved theologian and teacher here.

Why are we offering this course?

You may be aware that religion and spirituality are in the beginning a major transition. Such transitions have taken place several times in the course of history. In fact, the Book of Concord came about because of one such transition: the breakup of medieval Christendom transitioning to a system of secular states and cooperating coexisting and warring "churches".

No one knows for certain where we are headed now, but the signs are there. There are some who feel that denominational divides are already crumbling. As we continue into the 21st century, it would be to your benefit to know the foundations of the Lutheran perspective of Christianity, and the Book of Concord is "the authoritative confessional book for Lutherans around the globe." This quote is taken from the text that will be our guide for this course. The book is Lutheranism: The Theological Movement and Its Confessional Writings by Eric W. Gritsch and Robert W. Jenson, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1976. It was a text that both Sandy and I used at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary. Unless otherwise noted, throughout this course, all statements bracketed in quotation marks are from this text.

The main benefit to you is that the more you know about what you believe, the more you will be able to discern what to hold on to and what you can let go of in order to be open to embracing new perspectives that are coming along.

A secondary motivation for our offering this course is that in 2017 all Lutherans around the world will be celebrating the 500th anniversary of Luther's posting his 95 Theses and igniting the Reformation. It is our hope that this course will prepare you for the import of this anniversary and perhaps even give you cause to celebrate with Lutherans all over the world instead of letting the celebration merely pass you by!

You'll need to obtain a copy of the Book of Concord. Sandy has posted a resource to help you find one. You may also find the book on line and won't even have to purchase it.

This outline gives you reading assignments and the discussion topics for each meeting of our first year together. We will be taking a break over the months of November and December.

2013 I. The Lutheran Confessions

Part 1: An Ecumenical Proposal of Dogma

          Reading assignment: Book of Concord "The Three Chief Symbols"
          Formula of Concord "Rule and Norm"

Feb 3: Introduction to course and curriculum; Gospel, Theology, and Dogma

Mar 3: Two Kinds of Authority

Apr 7: The Legal Authority of Scripture

May 5: The Authority of Dogma

Part 2: Documents of Concord and Reform

          Reading assignment: Prefaces to: Book of Concord, Large and Small
          Augsburg Confession, Smalcald Catechisms, Articles, and
          Formula of Concord.

Jun 2: Toward a Territorial Church

Jul 7: Blueprint for Educational Reform

          Glance over: The Augsburg Confession, Articles 1 - 21

Aug 4: The Lutheran Magna Carta

Sep 1: Luther's Theological Testament

          Glance over: The Formula of Concord, Articles 1 - 12

Oct 6: Formula of Concord

February 2013, our first meeting.
Lecture by Pastor Jean Lebbert.

February 2013 Gospel, Dogma and Theology

We hear these three words often in church contexts. What do they mean? Here, we try to define them in simplest concepts.


The Gospel begins with a certain communication, a sacred story - "the story of Israel and its Jesus, told as a message of final destiny. . . it is a permission of freedom from any and every bondage to the past and a static status quo." In other words, the Gospel comes alive when you believe the story in such a way that it affects your choices and gives you hope and reason for your struggles in life. Because the Gospel is not just a story in a book but is vitally interwoven in the lives of its believers, the Gospel is a dynamic power, ever changing with each believer and each generation." To be itself, the gospel speaks to the living hopes and fears of its actual hearer; to be itself, the gospel changes."

Okay, so we have a story and we have an infinite number of people interpreting and embracing the story. Now we do something that humans have a tendency to do: we flock together with others who hold similar interpretations and feelings. There is something valid and natural about feeling comfortable in a congregation.

So, churches form, denominations and congregations within denominations. Each a little different from the others - unique, like fingerprints and snowflakes!


Put very simply, dogma is how each believing unit defines how it "understands itself as a community sent into the world to speak there a certain message." Dogma is political: "It is the self-definition of a specific community over against the larger society." Dogma is what the specific faith community teaches its individuals. Many people hear the word 'dogma' and assume it is a static statement, unmovable. Not so, faith communities are in the ever-changing world and consist of ever-evolving individuals. Granted, it may take some time for a dogma to change, but change it does!


Okay, so an individual attends a worship service and encounters the Gospel, a sacred story of salvation (aka freedom to be without damning baggage), and takes it to heart. Eventually (at least it used to be this way) the individual seeks some instruction about what the faith community holds to be true (ie. learns their dogma). In their heart and mind mingle the Gospel and this specific dogma, and eventually the individual makes a decision (okay, so there are some people who never come to a decision) - they either buy it or they look elsewhere. Children who are born to members of a community or who come with adults may not have choice at this point - they are enrolled in Christian Education programs and are spoon-fed the dogma and hopefully grow into embracing it.

If an individual buys the dogma, embraces it as 'yes, this is what I believe', then they put their own personal tweak on the Gospel and the dogma - that's theology in a nutshell! Here's how Gritsch and Jenson put it: "To speak gospel to my fellows and myself, I cannot, therefore, merely repeat formulas from my days in Sunday school. I must speak of Jesus as the hope of the new possibilities and new threats that open today and tomorrow in their life and mine. Therefore I must think, and not merely recite. 'Theology' is this thinking."

The Lutheran take on all of this

"Lutheranism is a confessional movement within the church [universal] that continues to offer to the whole church that proposal of dogma which received definitive documentary form in the Augsburg Confession and the other writings collected in the Book of Concord."

So, can you see the real purpose of this course? It is so that you can shape YOUR theology!

And we can boil it all down to one theme.

"The Lutheran proposal of dogma has one great theme: justification by faith alone, apart from works of law. This is the heart of the matter; we state it here only as a slogan, the explication of which is the task of the whole book. All else is elaboration."

What do you think? Well, we hope that you will hang in here with us over the next four years so that you can answer this question in a such a way that you will be ignited spiritually and will love to tell the story of Jesus and his love - especially to whomever is struggling to live without it.

Blessings to all of you.

Pastor Jean

March 2013, our second meeting.
Lecture by Sandy Koppen.

*Primary source and source of quotes: Lutheranism: The Theological Movement and Its Confessional Writings, by Eric W. Gritsch and Robert W. Jenson, Fortress Press, 1976, pp. 7-11.

In our last session we talked about the Confessions as a "proposal of dogma" with one great overarching theme: "Justification by faith alone, apart from works of the law." Dogma and proposed dogma claim authority, but the authority that the Confessions claim is understood by the Confessions themselves to be secondary to the authority of the Bible. While this is assumed, the character of this authority is never really discussed much!

So maybe we should start by talking about authority: What are we talking about when we talk about authority?

Gritsch and Jenson describe authority as "a certain way of talking about the event of communication." Every time we communicate, we in some sense determine each other's future-one of us responds or reacts to what is said by the other. So every interaction has some relationship with authority-but we tend not to describe an interaction as "authoritative" unless there is some obtrusive element. Because we have "traditions of language" and "traditions of information" in common, we come to expect "authoritative utterances" in certain situations or from certain people.

When you think about "authority" and "authority figures" who or what comes to mind? What does "authority" mean to you?

Gritsch and Jenson describe two basic modes of authority (one far more common than the other):

1) Legal Authority
  • Most likely, when you called up examples of authority, the interactions you thought of might fit into this category. When we address each other, each of us seeks to dominate the other: "I seek to determine your future by foreclosing your options."

    Communication of legal authority might follow this pattern:

    IF ____________________ THEN ____________________
    -an action to be performed
    -an attitude to be adopted
    -a character to be exemplified
    -an event or state of affairs already desired or feared by you

2) Authority of Promise
  • Another mode of authority (very Lutheran!) operates differently. Operating under an authority of promise, when we address each other I want to open your options to you, or grant possibilities you might not otherwise see as yours: "I seek to determine your future by freeing you for it."

    Communication of the authority of promise might follow this pattern:

    BECAUSE _____________ THEREFORE _____________
    -a commitment by me -a future for you (especially one not
    previously seen by you.)

Gritsch and Jensen go on to assert that, as the "community of a story," the church lives on through tradition, and "tradition's legitimate authority in the church is fundamentally the authority of promise rather than law." The gospel sets the community and me free: Because of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, sin has no power over me and I don't need to live in fear.

When it comes to authority, Gritsch and Jenson emphasize that the following three points must be kept in mind:
  1. "Either the scriptures and the rest of the tradition acquire this authority over me, or they do not...If I have not been freed by the gospel, its witnesses have not authority over me-and there is no way to insist that they should have."

  2. "Scriptures and dogma...have preeminent places amoung the witnesses of the tradition because and only because the other witnesses direct us to them."

  3. "Where scripture and the rest of tradition speak authoritatively in the church, their work is liberation." Under the authority of scripture and the whole tradition, the function of theology is not to provide ideology or to preserve or deny anything at all--theology will be the activity of critique which discovers new life and new language
"Any attempt to decree that a particular form of government, ministry, worship, or social presence is permanently necessary is a declaration of independence from the Scripturesand creeds."

So...the fundamental authority of the Confessions is the authority of promise, but there is also a place for legal authority because we need a norm of the gospel's continuity and identity: Is what we are saying authentic gospel?

Finally, Gritsch and Jenson ask, "What is authentic gospel?" Authentic gospel is talk of Christ which is:
  • Faithful to the remembered Jesus (tradition is the source of historical memory.)
  • A free response to the futurity of the risen Jesus. Gospel-talk is authentic only if it does for the hearer's freedom what the original proclamation did for past hearers.
Tradition provides historical memory-past hearers were opened to their "unique future in Jesus' love." So one gauge of authenticity is: Are present hearers similarly opened to their unique future? As we read through the Confessional writings in the Book of Concord, there will be many parts that will strike you as very legalistic. It will be helpful to remember that underlying these works is a fundamental belief in the authority of promise. At the end of the day, Luther's belief was that the gospel's ultimate purpose (the authority of the gospel!) was to soothe the troubled conscience, to free believers to look beyond themselves.

A Bit of Timeline By Pastor Jean Lebbert
Nov. 10, 1483 Martin Luther born in Eisleben
Oct. 31, 1517 Luther posts the 95 Theses on the church door at Wittenberg
1518 During interview with Cardinal Cajetan, Luther refuses to recant; becomes his famous "Here I stand" moment.
1520 Luther publishes his most important theological treatises:
  • May "Treatise on Good Works"
  • Aug "To the Christian Nobility"
  • Oct "The Babylonian Captivity of the Church"
  • Nov "The Freedom of a Christian"
1521 Luther condemned as a heretic after testifying before the emperor at The Diet of Worms. Hides at Wartburg. Reformation continues at Wittenberg, accompanied by much turmoil
1522 Luther returns to Wittenberg to take charge. In Sept., he publishes his German translation of the New Testament
1546 Luther dies
1580 The Formula of Concord is published as basis of Lutheran unity, resolving Key doctrinal disputes within Lutheran churches of Germany

April 2013, our third meeting
by Pastor Jean Lebbert

Today we are going to crack open the "Formula of Concord," which you'll find around the middle of the Book of Concord. In Tappert, it starts on page 463.

A little bit about the "Formula":

After Luther died, in 1546, things went badly for the Lutheran movement again. The Roman Church was organizing to oppose the Reformation more effectively. Under pressure, the Lutherans began fighting among themselves - the Philippists (Philip Melanchthon advocates) vs. the Gnesio-Lutherans (Luther advocates, led now by Matthias Flacius). The "Formula of Concord," published May 28, 1577, helped in finding new agreement on "right" Lutheran teaching.

Many people worked on the "Formula," however two persons deserve the largest share of credit. A major source was six sermons preached in 1573 by Pastor John Andreae, chancellor of the University of Tuebingen. The leading Lutheran theologian of the day, Martin Chemnitz, shaped much of the theology through the process of expansion and revision of various drafts of the "Formula."

The "Formula of Concord" is a confusing work to study. It contains complex theological themes and it has a double structure; that is, every topic is treated twice, first in the Epitome and then, in a longer discussion, in the Solid Declaration.

In this Session of our course, we look at the Comprehensive Summary of the Epitome (paragraphs 1-9, beginning on p. 464 in Tappert edition) and the Solid Declaration, Rule and Norm (paragraphs 1-13, beginning on p. 501 in Tappert). These sections, to put it simply, express the authority of the "Formula" - The Holy Scriptures (the story), the Creeds (dogma), and the teachings of Martin Luther (theology).

The authority is three-fold to provide a kind of check-and-balance.

The Holy Scriptures is the word of God, however, none of us can go to any of the contributors or witnesses or participants if we need clarification or understanding or interpretation.

Anyone can form a theological opinion on their own and can find precedent somewhere in the Bible to back them up (you have undoubtedly heard both sides of a hot-issue equally defended by Bible verses). So, to check yourself from going off the deep end as you form your personal theology, you have the dogma of the church and Luther's theology.

As Luther began translating portions of the Bible into plain German and distributing them all around, priests and pastors became rightfully concerned about people shaping their beliefs without the foundation of authority. There were all kinds of interpretations, but which were right and which were way off base? The Formula of Concord was one of the writings to provide instruction, guidance, containment, etc. Next session, we will look at others: the Small and Large catechisms and the Augsburg Confession. Before we meet, then, take a look at the introductions of those three writings in your Book of Concord.